Back among the lords and gentlemen in waiting stood the Black Prince himself, and a sign had passed from him to his royal sire. Still for a few moments longer King Edward sat and listened and responded to those around him, nor could they have gathered whether he were ill at ease or not. Iron was he to all circumstances, and naught could seem to move him much, save his ire, if that should be stirred.
And now he arose, and his dismissal of the assembly was but as if he sent them to their noontide refections, but he himself refused other attendance, and passed out by a private door with his son.
"Neville of Wartmont, from the archbishop?" sternly replied the king to the first words of the prince. "Why tarried he on the road?"
"That he did not," said the prince. "He hath ridden four horses. One wearied out, twain were ridden to death, and the last bore him to our gate. He hath been sore beset on the way. He hath slain De Bellamont and another, and he hath much to tell concerning treason. I bade him wait in the southerly corridor and to have speech with none."
"It shall be well with him!" exclaimed the king. "Glad am I of the Nevilles and the Beauchamps in a day when so few may be trusted. Bring him to me in my retiring room."
Unhelmeted, but otherwise clad as he had ridden, Richard Neville was quietly conducted to the apartment which so few were ever allowed to enter, and he was brought face to face with the king.
"Nay, Richard, sit thee down," commanded Edward, for the wornout messenger hardly could rise from his bended knees. "I would hear thee slowly and long. Begin with thy going, and see that thou miss no place nor any man, gentle or simple."
Richard began his tale, and there was no interruption until he came to the message sent by the Earl of Arundel.
"I will remember him for that," he said. "A wise man and true. Speak on."
There was no other stopping until the story reached the York gate.
"Sir Robert," said the king, "then I may trust the Johnstones. It is well. Come now to the archbishop. Nay, hold thy letters until thy words are done."
There were questions concerning his Grace and some others, but most careful were the king's inquiries relating to the Knight of Liddesdale.
"Now, thy ride hitherward," said the king, and Richard told it all. He saw the eyes of the prince flash admiringly at the passage of arms, but the king chafed sorely that he could not guess by whom Richard had been assailed.
"Thou didst well not to slay him," he decided, after a moment's thinking. "If thou ever meetest him again, to know him by his voice or otherwise, tell me."
When all the rest was said, to the London gate, the letters were delivered, but the king as yet opened them not.
"Richard of Wartmont," he said, rising, "the Earl of Warwick waiteth for thee without. Go thou to him. God send me alway as good a messenger! Thou wilt win thy spurs in good season.
A proud youth was Richard, but so lame he walked not easily when the prince led him to the door.
"I envy thee, I envy thee!" exclaimed the latter. "A joust of arms by moonlight! A fray i' the night! And thou hast seen the Liddesdale! I would give much to meet him."
Something of romance and of knight errantry, therefore, was in the hot young head of the heir of the throne of England, and they twain parted right friendly, as became such youths, who were to be companions in arms.
In one moment more, upon Richard's shoulders were the strong hands of the Earl of Warwick.
"Thou art as my son!" he exclaimed. "Thou art strengthening thy house. These be times when a man should stand by his own."
Few were the words of their further greeting till they were by themselves in the Warwick palace at London. Nor then was much converse, until Richard had slept long and well. Afterward he was talked with by his uncle as if he had been a grown man and a belted knight, but that was on the morrow.
"Moreover," said the earl, at the end of all, "I have thy freedom from the king. Thou mayest pause in Warwick to see thy mother. Then go thou to Wartmont. Spend what time thou mayest among thy men, but be sure that thy levy shall be full. So shalt thou keep the favor of the king. Then thou wilt return to London town."
One day only was required, and beyond that was the homeward road. Oh, but it was a bright even, full of happiness, when the young warrior – for such he now was – once more was folded in the arms of the Lady Maud! Her long, white hair fell over his shoulders like a veil, and she sobbed most peacefully.
"Alas, my son," she said, "that I can not keep thee with me! Thou art mine all! But obey thou the mandates of the king and of the earl."
"I must speed me to Wartmont, mother," said Richard. "I will return to thee, but it will please me much to see the old tower again, and my merry men."
There were two sunsets after that before he left the castle, and proud was she at the manner of his treatment by the great men who were coming and going. Any were ready to speak graciously to a youth who was known to have won royal favor.
Only the third sun was going down thereafter, when Richard, in full armor but alone, save a serving man with a pack beast heavily laden, drew rein before the portal of his own castle. But all behind him the village had risen as he rode through. Farmer men were also coming in, while every cottage poured forth old and young.
The warders raised the portcullis and swung open the gate, while in the tower the bell swung heels over head. So in the village church the ringers were busy, to show their young lord their gladness at his safe return. For there had been rumors of his going to the north, even unto Scotland. He had slain men. He had served the king. He had done wondrous well, and all his own were joyful.
Hardly could he dismount from his good steed, so close was the press around him, but he bade the castle keepers make ready a goodly feast for all comers.
"Guy the Bow!" he shouted suddenly, "art thou here?"
Not quite had he arrived, but up the street a galloway was coming at his swiftest, and on his bare back rode the best archer of Arden. Down sprang Richard now, and so did Guy, but there was no handshaking, for Richard's arms were around the forester.
"Come thou within!" he shouted. "I have much to tell thee. Much to tell the men. How goeth it with them all?"
"Right well, my Lord Richard," said Guy, greatly delighted. "I tell thee, they came back loyal men. A fortnight's gay drilling with the king's troops. Good fare. Wages as if in war. A new suit each. Then marched they home, avowing they would bring each his man to double the levy."
"I trust they may," said Richard. "I will have speech with them."
"But seest thou not," said Guy, "what the earl's masons are doing for thy castle? I wonder at it, for the time hath been but brief. They work fast, and the walls are nobly mended."
"I will see to that," said Richard eagerly, and they pushed on into the keep, but not till he had spoken many good words to the villagers. Truly the workmen had plied their tools with industry, but they had done more than mend. Some well-skilled engineer of the earl had planned enlargements and outer walls on the farther side. There were to be bastions and stronger battlements and better storage within for the provenders that might withstand a siege. It was a good fort, had said the engineer, and in some dark day it might be worth the holding.
That evening was a feast of welcome and of news-telling, but with the dawn both Guy and Richard rode away. Nor did any at the castle know whither they had gone nor what they did while they were away. All the while the masons and their helpers toiled on, and the stonework grew apace. It was four days before the young lord of Wartmont returned to see what they had done. A score of men on galloways came with him to the edge of the forest, but there they drew rein, and it was Ben of Coventry who spoke for them.
"Fare thee well, Lord Richard of Wartmont!" he said merrily. "We will come at the king's summons, hear it when we may. Only this, that thou do not get thyself slain too soon, for many of us will follow the Neville, and not another."
If he had won them, so had they won him, and well did he love his bowmen, as one loveth kith and kin.
Not long might be his further lingering at the castle nor on the road to Warwick. There, indeed, he found not only his mother, but a message from the earl, bidding him to London speedily. It was a grief, and yet she was willing to have him go, for in it was his future good fortune, and she kissed him farewell after a long talk about Wartmont, and the grange in the forest, and the troop he was to command, although so young.
Two mounted spearmen went with him on the road to London, but none who met him questioned him for harm. It was as if the roads were as safe and peaceful as was their seeming; but Richard knew better than that. Even at the London gate he found himself turning quickly in his saddle to gaze after one who passed him.
"'Twas a scowling face," he thought. "Where have I met that knight? He carrieth his bridle arm in a sling, as if he were wounded there. Did I not smite a left arm with mine axe on the road? I will watch for that man."
So he told the prince when they came together, but there was wisdom of kingcraft in the answer given.
"O true and loyal heart, good comrade," spoke the prince, "if thou thinkest thou knowest him, be sure that thou know him not. If he meet thee, greet him well, as if he were thy kinsman. 'Tis ever well for a man to know his foemen. 'Tis ever ill to let his foemen know that he knoweth them. Safety is in secrecy until the sword is out of the sheath."
"I will obey," said Richard, "but my blade will be out quickly if any seem to threaten thee or my royal master."
The prince inquired with care concerning the archery levy, and he seemed well pleased, but he had somewhat more of counsel for his companion in arms.
"Wert thou ever on shipboard?" he asked. "Hast thou been ever at sea?"
"Never saw I the salt water," responded Richard. "I have but looked upon the masts in the Thames, but I can row a boat."
"A wherry?" said the prince. "There will be no wherry fighting. Even now we are sweeping the French pirate craft from the Channel. Do thou this: at every hour of thy liberties haunt thou the riverside. Read thou each craft thou seest, great and small. I will get thee an order to board any in the king's errand. Talk with seafaring men, and learn the points of shipping and of the manner of all fights at sea. Go not out of the harbor, however, for thou mayest not at any day be beyond recall if thou art needed as a messenger. Thou art of the king's pages. The earl will see to thy equipment, for thou mayest often serve at court and at royal banquets."
Gladly did he hear of that appointment. None of lower rank than his own might carry a dish or hand a napkin at the royal table, or stand behind any of the king's guests in the banquet hall. But hardly less than an earl might deliver the king's own cup or carve or hand for him.
Much teaching of these matters did Richard receive thereafter from the Earl of Warwick, and likewise one of his near friends and tutors was the good Earl of Arundel, brave knight and skillful captain, fitted to lead an army. Noble ladies also smiled upon him, for he was well favored and of goodly stature, and he knew somewhat of music. Even the queen herself spoke graciously to him before long. Nevertheless did he walk always cautiously, knowing more and more of the bitter jealousies and heartburnings which ever beset a court, and of the feuds of houses, and of the plots and cunnings, and of the endless rivalries for place and power and the favor of the king.
Long hours were to be spent each day in the hall of arms of the Warwick palace. There were duties of drill and exercise among the soldiery, that he might know how to work maneuverings on a field or placings on a march, or the choosing and the putting in order of a camp. He learned also of forts and of defenses, and of attacks and of artful dealings with foemen by night or day.
"I will make thee fitted to command thy men," said Earl Warwick. "Thou shalt not go into battle untrained. We learn that Philip of France is taking no such pains with his musterings. He will trust to his counts and barons and to his allies. He will bring against us a multitude, and then he will see what Edward of England will do with his motley array."
Greater and greater grew Richard's confidence, like that of other men, in the war wisdom of his king, but he marveled much from time to time at the words and the deep thinking of his friend the prince. He could speak several tongues, and prudently, and he was notable for his feats of skill and strength in the royal hall of arms.
It was not at first that Richard had leisure to learn much of the sea, save in listening to the talk of knights and captains who had served on shipboard. But he forgot not the counsel of the prince, and in due season he was busy with his new learning.
"Hard work," he said at the beginning. "Even the ropes have names, and every rope hath a place of its own. So have the spars and the sails. 'Tis another tongue to win, and the sailors are not like our inland men. They believe, too, that a man who liveth not on the sea is of small account. They have more respect for a good sailor than for a lord, if so be his lordship knoweth not how to win a sea fight. But they believe that our king is an admiral. What pirates they are in their talk! I have met no sailor yet who thinketh it ill to capture and plunder any foreign craft that he may encounter out of sight of land."
That was the fashion of those times, for all the open seas were as disputed territory, and the best sailors of those waters adjacent to the coasts of the British isles were but as the grandsons of the vikings. Not at all as yet had they abandoned the wild traditions of their roving ancestors.
Ever and anon came tidings from the north counties, but such as came to the public ear were favorable to a continued peace with Scotland; only that all men knew that a Scottish peace was only a war asleep, and was to be kept with the English sword halfway out of the scabbard.
From the Continent of Europe came no peace at all, but from every quarter was heard the clash of arms or the sound of military preparation. Embassies came and went continually, and Richard saw many men whose names were of note in the lands beyond the sea. He studied them well, and he inquired as he might of their deeds in camp and field and council, but none did he see who seemed to him the equals of his own great captains.
Slowly wore on the winter, and the spring went by. His mother came to court with the Countess of Warwick, and Richard was proud to see her in the throne room, unsurpassed by any dame therein for her stately beauty of form and face, and for the sweet graciousness with which she greeted all.
'Twas a fine, fair morn in June when Richard at last was summoned in haste by the Earl of Warwick.
"Grand news, my young kinsman!" shouted the stout earl. "The die is cast! The war with France hath come! Be thou ready!"
"Ready am I," said Richard gladly. "But I must bring my bowmen with me."
"Go thou not, then," said the earl. "Send but thy token by thy own messengers. Bid all the archers of Arden to speed them to Portsmouth in the king's name. The ships are even now gathering rapidly. Thousands of men are in perfect training, and the new levies are in hand to learn the way and the will of the king. Thither wilt thou go thyself. Bid thy mother a long farewell, and haste thee. I trust that when thou seest her again thou wilt wear golden spurs."
"Please God," said Richard, "I will strive to earn the good will of the king. I would not be knighted by any lesser hand than his. Canst thou tell me where is my noble friend Sir Walter de Maunay?"
"Somewhere in Guienne," said the earl, "and the king's enemies there may roundly will that he were somewhere else. Now up and out, Richard Neville! Thou wilt get thy orders further from Geoffrey Harcourt, at the port. I go to Warwick first, and then I come. The days of this mock peace are ended, and may God give his blessing to the armies of England and to our good lord the king! Amen."
"Thou art no seaman!" laughed the prince. "I think thou wouldst learn to love the sea, as do all true English hearts. Go thou on board forthwith. The admiral hath given thee one Piers Fleming for thy shipmaster."
Profoundly respectful was the answer of Richard Neville, for his friend was also his prince and his commander; he said, "'Tis but a brief passage, and there will be no fighting."
"Count not on that," replied the prince. "We are warned of many French rovers, from Calais and elsewhere, on the watch for stragglers. Word cometh that the king is safely at La Hogue, in Normandy, and not, as some think, in Guienne. There will soon be enough of fighting on land, but watch thou for a chance to gain honor on the sea. We must win our spurs before we return to Merry England."
The two young men, neither of them yet eighteen, were standing on the height above Portsmouth, gazing down upon the harbor and out upon the sea. In all directions there were swarms of vessels of all sizes, sailing or at anchor; for it was said that King Edward the Third had gathered over a thousand ships to convey his army across the Channel for his quarrel with Philip of France.
It was the largest English fleet yet assembled, and the army going on board was also the best with which any English king had ever put to sea. It consisted of picked men only. Of these, four thousand were men-at-arms, six thousand were Irish, twelve thousand were Welsh; but the most carefully trained and disciplined part of the force consisted of ten thousand bowmen. During a whole year had Edward and his son and his generals toiled to select and prepare the men and the weapons with which they were to meet the highly famed chivalry of the Continent. An army selected from a nation of perhaps four millions of people was to contend with an army collected from France with her twenty millions, and from such allies of hers as Germany and Bohemia, re-enforced by large numbers of paid mercenaries. Among these latter were the crossbowmen of Genoa sold to Philip by the masters of that Italian oligarchy. Edward's adventure had a seeming of great rashness, for already it was reported that the French king had mustered a hundred thousand men. Full many a gallant cavalier in armor of proof may well have wondered to hear, moreover, that Edward the Third, accounted the foremost general of his time, proposed to meet superior numbers of the best lances of Europe with lightly armored men on foot. They knew not yet of the new era that was dawning upon the science of war. Edward and his bowmen were to teach the world more than one new lesson before that memorable campaign was over. Before this, he had shown what deeds might be wrought upon the sea by ships prepared and manned and led by himself. He had so crippled the naval power of his enemies that there was now no hostile fleet strong enough to prevent his present undertaking, although Philip had managed to send out some scores of cruisers to do whatever harm they could.
The prince was clad in a full suit of the plain black armor from which his popular name had been given him. His visor was up, and his resolute, intelligent face wore a dignity beyond his years.
The stature of the young hero of England was nearly that of full-grown manhood; and if Richard was not quite so tall, he was both older and stronger than when he had faced the Club of Devon in the village street of Wartmont.
A brilliant company of men-at-arms stood around them, many of whom were famous knights and mighty barons. Richard was now receiving his final instructions, and in a few minutes more he bowed low and departed.
Halfway down the hill he was awaited by a party of stalwart-looking men, and to one of these he said:
"Haste thee now, Guy the Bow! Let us have the sails up and get out of the harbor. Almost the entire army is already on board."
"Aye, my lord," responded the bowman; "I have been all over our ship. The sailors are good men and true; but I like not the captain, and we shall be crowded like sheep in a pen."
"'Tis but for a day," said Richard, "and the weather is good. We are warned of foes by the way."
"We shall be ready for them," said Guy; then he added, "A page from my Lord the Earl of Warwick brought this."
It was a letter, and quickly it came open.
"It is from my mother! The saints be with her!" exclaimed Richard. "She is well. I will read it fully after we are on board. Thanks to the good earl."
Down the hill they went together, and on to a long pier, at the outer end of which was moored a two-masted vessel apparently of about four hundred tons' burden – a large vessel for those days – very high at bow and stern, but low amidships, as if she were planned to carry a kind of wooden fort at each end.